Over the weekend, one of my favorite people and a great LA friend, Isela, travelled to New Mexico with her 5-year old daughter, Isis, to see me and visit for a couple of days. Although we did a ton of driving all over southern New Mexico, we spent a lot of that time catching up on old times, sharing stories about our present life and openly talking about our hopes and dreams. During one of our drives back to my house, we were listening to some music and one particular song took me back.
Now, you must be thinking, “Paula Abdul? Really? Forever your girl? She must have had better songs than this?”
Yes. Paula Abdul. In addition to having anxiety at such a young age, I also had a lot of hopes and dreams which included being an actress, which I shared here, as well as a dancer, singer and choreographer…which I will attribute to the constant repeat of this cassette tape of Paula Abdul’s first album release, particularly this song. For your information, I am not an actress and I am a horrible dancer. The reason I also bring this up is because this was the song that always reminded me of the first boy I ever liked, Louis C.K.* Not only is he the first boy that I liked a lot (also the first boy I held hands with) but he was also the boy that tormented me, by calling me “the Tortilla Kid.”
Yes. The boy who bullied and tormented me and made my life miserable, was also the boy that I liked a lot. Go figure.
So, it should be no surprise by now, that it has taken me 35 years to fully accept the fact that I am The Tortilla Kid and that it’s ok. Accepting this reality has not always been easy for me. It’s taken this long to not just accept this gift…which it is a gift, in my opinion. But as my friend Isela says, I must also “embrace it.” To talk about it so publicly, even now, while sharing very private stories about my life (some embarrassing and some very scary) and the life of my mom, for example, is something I have feared most, if not all of my life.
For the most part, I managed to ignore the insults throughout my middle and high school years at Lake Arthur because I always figured I’d leave the place forever and I would never have to approach the subject ever again. I just needed to get out of there.
It was the summer of 2001, and I was interning for Senator Jeff Bingaman in his Washington, D.C. office and during an evening of conversation with my fellow peers at Onassis Hall on the George Washington University campus, where we lived, someone from the group began to say something about a woman from a small town in New Mexico who discovered Jesus on a tortilla.
First of all, I should not have been shocked by this turn of events. These kids were all from New Mexico and super passionate about the state, not just about its politics, but about history and culture too. But after a night of cocktails, I was not at all prepared for this conversation. It had been years since any stranger had mentioned this or brought it up. How did this happen to me all the way in Washington, DC? What would or could I say? Would I allow them to make fun of my mom like so many people had before them? Would I be able to give in and defend my mom? Would I just go along pretending that I had no idea what they were talking about or who she was, for that matter?
I was screaming out loud, silently. Really, God? Of all the places and times, we’re going to do this now?
I stopped the conversation abruptly, took a sip of my Rolling Rock and said, “guys, before we continue, I must confess something. The woman that we’re speaking of, is my mom.”
The room fell silent for what seemed like a million seconds.
When the silence ended, all I got from my friends was, “awesome!” or “no way?!” I hadn’t felt this relieved in such a long time! It wasn’t that I had fully accepted my role as The Tortilla Kid, but I had received some validation from my peers that I was not entirely crazy and that my family was kind of normal, despite this little thing called, the Jesus tortilla.
In 2001, that was good enough for me, but it would still take another thirteen years for me to embrace the gift of a story I was born into.
That time is now.
*Names have been changed (for legal reasons) to famous men that I find attractive, in case you would like to set me up on a blind date, you know what my type is.